Appreciating Animals for Their Own
John A. Hoyt
In the past, we have tried to make a distinction between
animals which we acknowledge have some value, and others which, having none,
can be liquidated when we wish. This standard must be abandoned.
Everything that lives has value simply as a living thing, as one of the
manifestations of the mystery that is life.
There is one fundamentally important point that must
be widely understood and accepted if the world's wildlife is to be saved. In addition to the cold, practical reasons for
preserving species, we must learn to appreciate wildlife for its intrinsic
value, to respect its innate right to exist, and to have humane concern for the
suffering of individual animals as well as for the survival of entire
species. This is the single most important factor that has been missing from
traditional wildlife management and conservation policies -- the ethical
dimension, a concern for the well-being of the individual animals as well as
for the overall species.
A philosophy that ignores this, and cares little or nothing about the
suffering of animals, finds itself in a hopelessly contradictory position. It
argues, on the one hand, that these are beautiful, interesting, valuable species,
that they are of great importance to humanity, and that they must
be saved for future generations. But on the
other hand, wildlife managers condone, encourage, and even require the killing
-- for fun, recreation, and profit -- of the individual animals. But if we erode respect for individual animals, and kill
enough of them, the species itself disappears.
Over the long term, what is now euphemistically called
"sustainable use" of wildlife cannot succeed in protecting and
preserving viable populations of wild animals. It will instead reduce their
numbers and increase the number of species being subjected
to commercial trade. The result will be the virtual or actual extinction of
many of them, as has happened in the past, and as is happening now with various
species throughout Africa and the rest of the
world. This is clearly demonstrated by the numerous precedents and studies
cited earlier in this book.
In addition to the fact that it simply does not work from a conservation
standpoint, the philosophy of sustainable use lacks a moral and ethical
underpinning that would give it credibility, integrity, and consistency. It
judges animals primarily in economic terms, on their financial worth to humans,
ignoring almost completely their feelings, their suffering, and their innate
value. It encourages people to kill only a limited number of animals, and to
save the rest for their continuing, long-term economic value.
But what if the people in an area can make more
from killing off the local animals and using their habitat for farming or
mining? Under the concept of sustainable use, what philosophical or ethical
principles would effectively prevent this from happening?
If we are to save the world's wildlife, especially that of
Africa, we must learn to appreciate animals
for their own intrinsic worth. The other rationales we concoct to
persuade people to protect wildlife will never be sufficient by themselves to
guarantee its ultimate survival.
The bottom line is that wildlife cannot continue to be killed
and otherwise used on a large scale for sport and profit without jeopardizing
its ultimate survival. If wildlife is to continue to exist, it must be protected and appreciated for its own innate value, and
cherished as a precious natural heritage.
As Jan Hartke, the respected president of EarthKind International, once
In the final analysis, if we are to succeed in saving the
beauty, diversity, and life of our planet, people must fall in love with the
earth and the animals that call it home. Appeals to utilitarian purposes, while
valuable, cannot ultimately succeed without a spiritual dimension that is centered on a deep reverence for life.
It is time for governments, wildlife officials, and
conservationists around the world to adopt and promote a new ethic on the
conservation of wildlife, one that includes a humane concern for the well-being
of individual animals themselves as well as the species.
WILDLIFE MUST BECOME A SOURCE OF PRIDE AND REVERENCE
Promoting conservation by stimulating humane and ethical
attitudes towards animals is based on more than
emotional and moral concern there are cold, practical ones as well. There is a
millennia-long history of human reverence for animals and the natural world.
As the world becomes increasingly overpopulated
with people, crowding out and killing off other creatures, wildlife's only real
chance for survival is to become a source of human pride and reverence. Most
species cannot justify their existence or "pay their own way" through
hunting, commercial trade, or tourism. Indeed, promoting reverence and respect
for animals is incompatible with regarding them as sources of revenue, to be killed and sold. As author Conger Beasley, Jr., has
observed, to people who love and respect animals, the rhetoric of sustainable
use is "too crass and utilitarian" to be acceptable; "It reduces
animals to quantifiable units and ignores the emotional and mythological
dimensions many animals have for the people who live alongside them."
Dr. Richard Mordi, in his 1991 book, Attitudes Toward Wildlife in Botswana, discusses how the beliefs
and values of local peoples are fundamentally important in determining the
success of wildlife conservation efforts in Africa.
He strongly condemns the concept of sustainable use:
In spite of the provision that any commercial utilization of
wildlife be sustainable, state classification of wildlife and public perception
of animals as a resource to be utilized is ominous.
The requirement that wildlife justify its existence economically must be seen as a potential threat to the long-term goals of
conservation. Such a philosophy clouds the future of fauna conservation in the
Mordi goes on to point out the
futility of trying to convince people to conserve wildlife solely as an
It seems as though the future of wildlife will remain
precarious until animals are redefined not exclusively as a resource, but as an
irreplaceable heritage whose legitimate owner is the
future generations of Botswana.
Wildlife begins to face a mortal dilemma the moment a generation understands
itself to be its sole proprietor, rather than its provisional custodians.
Many Native Americans took into account such true
sustainability. Their attitude is demonstrated by the
now widely popularized saying, "We do not inherit the earth from our
parents. We borrow it from our children." And the
six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy and the Sioux Indians based their
decision-making processes on considering the effects an action would have on
their next seven generations.
The solution, Mordi believes, is to instill in
local populations an appreciation for the intrinsic value of wild animals, a
goal that has so far proved elusive:
At the time of writing , no country in sub-Saharan
Africa can boast of a large number of indigenous citizens who, in the light of
a rapid decline in wildlife populations, feel a personal sense of loss ...
Until middle class indigenous defenders of wildlife emerge, personal involvement
in conservation will remain extremely low in the larger public in sub-Sahara
Mordi lists among "the somber
findings" of his study the existence of "a popular perception of
wildlife and its habitat as a means to other material ends, particularly at the
grass roots level." He concludes that:
In light of these somber findings, optimism about the future
of wildlife in Botswana must be tempered with a sense of uncertainty ... The
widespread perception of animals as a means to other ends in Botswana, unless
reversed, is likely to continue to drive more species into extinction.
HUMAN REVERENCE FOR ANIMALS
Through the ages, from the very beginning of recorded
history, humans have demonstrated an interest in, and a respect for, the
welfare of animals. Such concern has often had a religious basis or
manifestation; reverence toward animals has, from the dawn of
civilization, characterized human societies throughout the world. Even
today, there is deep within our psyches an arcane yet profound understanding
that remembers our being part of nature and living alongside the animals. Some
scientists believe that humans instinctively yearn for a renewal of this
kinship with nature and our fellow creatures.
This "eco-spirituality" is reflected in
many of the teachings of the world's major religions, as well as in the
spirituality of indigenous peoples, who have traditionally respected and even
revered animals as integral parts of their communities and cultures.
THE WORLD'S RELIGIONS TEACH CONSERVATION
It is a little-known fact that all of the world's
major faiths have, as important parts of their laws and traditions, teachings
requiring protection of the environment, respect for nature and wildlife, and
kindness to animals.
While it is well known that such tenets are part of
some Eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, there is also a largely
forgotten but remarkably strong tradition of such teachings in Christianity,
Judaism, and Islam.
All of these faiths recognize a doctrine of God's love for all creation, and
for all of the living creatures of the world. The obligations
of humans to respect and protect the natural environment and other life forms
appears throughout the sacred writings of the prophets and leaders of
the world's great religions.
These tenets of "environmental theology" contained in the world's
religions are little known and seldom discussed, much less
widely observed or practiced. But the
widespread contemporary ignorance of these teachings makes them no less
important. Indeed, they are more relevant today than ever, for at a time when
the earth faces a potentially fatal ecological crisis, traditional religion
shows us a way to preserve our planet and the life forms living and dependent
The Bible's Ecological Message
The early founders and followers of monotheism were filled with a sense of wonder, delight, and awe by the
beauty of creation and the seeming wisdom of wild creatures. Indeed, nature and
wildlife were sources of inspiration for many of the prophets of the Bible, and
one cannot fully understand the scriptures, or their teachings and symbolism,
without an appreciation for the natural environment that inspired so much of
what appears in them.
The Bible clearly imparts a reverence for life -- for God's creation, if you
will -- which humans were given the responsibility to
care for as good stewards. It teaches that if we despoil nature, we are
destroying God's handiwork and violating our sacred trust as its caretakers.
There is nothing in the Bible that would justify our modern-day policies and
programs that despoil the land, desecrate the environment, and destroy entire
species of wildlife. Such actions clearly violate God's commands to humans to
"replenish the earth," to conserve natural resources, and to treat
animals with kindness, as well as subverting God's instructions to the animals
to "be fruitful and multiply" and fill the earth.
In contrast, there are various laws requiring the protection of natural
resources to be found in the Mosaic law, including passages mandating the
preservation of fruit trees (Deuteronomy 20:19, Genesis 19:23-25); agricultural
lands (Leviticus 25:2-4); and wildlife (Deuteronomy 22:6-7, Genesis 9). The
Bible often refers to the impressive intelligence of wild creatures, such as in
Jeremiah 8:7-8. Proverbs 6:6-8 and 30:24-8, Numbers 22:22-35, and Isaiah 1:3.
Numerous other Biblical passages extoll the wonders
of nature and teach kindness to animals -- even including the Ten Commandments,
which require that farm animals be allowed to rest on the
Eastern Religions' Reverence for Life
Some Eastern religions are even more emphatic in advocating
or requiring respect for animals. Both Hinduism and Buddhism are
well known for teaching concern and compassion for all living creatures
and for the sanctity of nature and the earth. Such precepts are the
cornerstones of these faiths. What is not as widely appreciated is that the
Muslim religion, in its laws and traditions, contains extremely strict
prohibitions against cruelty to animals and destruction of the natural
environment. The Prophet Mohammed taught that animals and natural resources,
such as trees, should always be treated with
reverence, and that respect for nature is extremely important.
Such principles are, unfortunately, not as widely
practiced as they are preached; but there has been some useful
application of them. Several groups worldwide are working to apply Buddhist
ideals to current problems facing animals and the environment. In October 1985,
Buddhist leaders from Thailand
announced that they were joining forces to try to halt the destruction of the
natural environment, calling on Buddhists everywhere to join the campaign.
These efforts have been endorsed and supported by the Dalai
Lama and other Buddhist leaders worldwide.
Buddhist perspectives have already been effective in influencing the
policies of governments and populations of some Asian nations. For example, Sri Lanka has
over 17 million people, 70 percent of them Buddhist and 20 percent Hindu.
Although the nation is poor and overpopulated, it is still "a country of
wildlife, a place where people and wildlife have lived together in a system of
mutual tolerance for centuries," according to Dr. Chatsumam
Kabilsingh of Thammasat University
in Bangkok, Thailand. Kabilsingh
Buddhist teachings emphasize the importance of coexisting
with nature rather than conquering it. Devout Buddhists admire a conserving
lifestyle rather than one which is profligate.
The very core of Buddhism evolves around compassion, encouraging a better
respect for and tolerance of every human being and living thing sharing the
Wherever Buddhism is influential studies will
usually show some direct benefit for the natural world. In Sri Lanka,
predominantly Buddhist, crowded by Western standards, wildlife has not been virtually eliminated as it has been in many
parts of the world. The reason, according to researchers, is the country's
largely religious and devout population.
Formal protection generally results from government action, but such
actions, it is felt, would never have made much effect if they
were not readily accepted by the people. Successful conservation there is based on deep philosophical convictions.
Buddhist influence has helped conserve much of the native wildlife. Dr. Kabilsingh observes that the last remaining refuge for the
nation's open-billed storks is Wat Phai Lom, a Buddhist temple near Bangkok:
Open-billed storks would be extinct in Thailand but
for the fact their last remaining breeding ground is
within the sanctuary of this temple. Ecologists point out it is scientifically
important to save this species of bird, whose sole diet is a local,
rice-devouring species of snail. Without the storks, the snails would
proliferate, then pesticides would be brought in, and
an unnecessary, poisonous cycle would go into effect. Buddhist
precepts of personal and social conduct can take much of the credit for saving
the open-billed stork in Thailand ... It is likely that, like the open-billed
stork, much of what still survives of the natural world here is linked, in
varying degrees, to the influence of Buddhism, the philosophy's focus on
awareness, attitudes, and actions which should never harm, and ideally should
actively help, all life on earth.
In order to save the rain forests of northeast Thailand,
Buddhist monks have even "ordained" trees, clothing them in the
sacred orange robs of holy men in an effort to make the cutting of a tree
tantamount to the unpardonable sin of killing a monk.
Many of India's most successful and prosperous citizens are adherents of
Jainism, a religion so strict in its avoidance of harming living creatures that
Jainist monks, when walking outside, wear masks over
their mouths and sweep the paths in front of them to avoid inhaling or crushing
insects. The Jains have built animal sanctuaries and
hospitals throughout the country, where stray and injured camels, cows, water
buffalo, pigeons, parrots, and other creatures are cared for.
With some 2 billion Buddhists, Hindus, and Moslems in Africa, Asia, and the
Middle East, there is obviously great potential for stimulating a spiritually
based appreciation for nature and wildlife in much of the Third
Indigenous Peoples' Respect for Animals
Many other religions, including the Baha'i
faith and those of Native Americans, Amazon Indian tribes, and other indigenous
peoples, stress the sanctity of nature, and the need to conserve wildlife,
forests, plants, water, fertile land, and other natural resources.
Native American peoples were shocked by the
Europeans' callous and destructive attitude toward what the Native Americans
considered kindred creatures and sacred land. The feelings of many of them were
expressed eloquently (if apocryphally) in words popularly attributed to Chief Sealth of the Duwamish tribe in Washington state in the mid-1800s. He is
purported to have pleaded with the Europeans about to take his land to preserve
it and cherish it, saying:
If I decide to accept your offer to buy our land, I will
make one condition. The white man must treat the beasts of this land as his
brothers. I am a savage and do not understand any other way ... What is a man
without the beasts? If all the beasts are gone, men
would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts
also happens to man.
One of our best opportunities to preserve wildlife and
wilderness, and to gain the support of local people in this struggle, is to
respect, promote, and help support the reverence toward animals and nature of
faiths and cultures the world over. We do not have to invent new religions or
philosophies in order to save the planet; we just have to return to the roots
of our old ones.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF DISRESPECTING NATURE
Although we in the West have lost much of this traditional
spiritual appreciation of nature, we are now learning how dangerous it can be
to disregard and disrespect the importance of the natural environment.
Some of the world's top scientists have recently alerted us, in "The
World Scientists' Warning to Humanity" to the fact that, because of our
abuse of nature, the world really may be coming to an
We hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great
change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required if vast
human misery is to be avoided, and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.
This statement was issued on
November 18, 1992, by 1,575 of the world's top scientists from sixty-nine
different countries, including 99 Nobel Prize winners in the sciences, and
representing, in the words of one participant, "the largest group of
senior scientists from around the world to ever speak in unison on a single
issue." Their warning goes on to observe, "Much of
this damage is irreversible on a scale of centuries or permanent ... If not
checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we
wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the
living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we
Harvard Professor of Science Edward 0. Wilson, perhaps the
world's foremost authority on biodiversity, expressed similar views in his May
30, 1993, cover article in The New York Times Magazine entitled "Is
Humanity Suicidal? We're Flirting with the Extinction of Our Species":
Many of earth's vital resources are about to be exhausted...
Natural ecosystems...are being irreversibly degraded...we are dismantling a
support system that is too complex to understand, let alone replace, in the
foreseeable future... Earth is destined to become an impoverished planet within
a century if present trends continue.
As Paul G. Irwin, president of The Humane Society of the
United States (HSUS), has written, we are facing a catastrophe of unprecedented
proportions that ultimately threatens the well-being and indeed the survival of
humans on this planet:
Today, there are about a dozen critical
environmental problems we face, any one of which could be devastating to society
-- and all of which are becoming increasingly unmanageable. Unfortunately none of the major environmental problems is
being adequately addressed, and all are getting worse. There is a growing
consensus among top scientists and experts that the combination of these
problems is leading us to disaster.
...the ongoing human destruction of the natural environment is damaging,
permanently, irreversibly, and perhaps fatally, the earth's ability to support
If we do not act quickly to halt this devastation, and begin to repair what
damage we can, humans and most other life forms will not have a long-term
future on the planet. Human activity has done more damage to the planet in the
last 50 years than in all of the rest of recorded history... And
if we continue these policies for the next decade or two, we will destroy
essential ecological and agricultural systems on which we all depend.
A major problem in our environmental crisis is the massive
destruction of wildlife and its habitat. According to the best scientific
estimates, each year we condemn to extinction -- in vanishing tropical rain
forests alone -- one species of animal, bird, or plant every day.
In destroying and persecuting animals, we do more than harm these creatures;
we harm ourselves as well. Cruelty to and abuse of animals do not just reflect
the indifference of individuals, corporations, and governments. If tolerated,
approved, and permitted to continue, they become the hallmarks of a society --
a society whose values are selfish and short-sighted;
whose policies are inhumane and unsustainable; and whose inheritance bequeathed
to future generations will be empty.
But I believe there is hope for our planet, for our
wildlife -- and for ourselves.
I see hope that we are beginning to acknowledge that other
creatures are, like ourselves, capable of intelligently experiencing
pain and misery. We are starting to understand that animals are deserving of
some consideration that would spare them, as much as possible, undue abuse and
Our best hope, I think, lies with those persons who, at least in their
better moments, are able to view themselves, and humans in general, as only one
part of a very complex and marvelous world, rather than as its master. It lies
with those who have chosen to accept the proposition that all life has
intrinsic value and is therefore deserving of some of those same considerations
we generally reserve for humankind. It lies with those whose vision for a
better world is not restricted to a better life for themselves,
but includes the welfare of their fellow inhabitants of the globe. And it lies with those who understand that being truly human
means being truly humane, and that the wanton and needless destruction of other
creatures damages ourselves as human beings.
The most heartening -- indeed, amazing -- thing is the extraordinary
progress we have made, against all odds, over the last two decades in securing
protection for so much of our wildlife and its habitat. For this, we can
primarily thank the many hard-working, dedicated people in the wildlife
protection movement who have persevered, even when it seemed hopeless, against
well-funded, well-connected interests, to fight the good fight.
But there is still much to be done, so we will
continue this struggle until it is won. And someday,
it will be won, because humans will eventually realize that ultimately, we have
no choice. If our civilization is to survive, we must protect and save those
treasures of nature that make our lives pleasant, prosperous -- even possible.
The author of the book of Ecclesiastes, writing thousands of years ago,
understood that if wildlife perishes, humans will not
For that which befalleth the sons
of men befalleth beasts, even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth,
so dieth the other, yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast.
If humans and wildlife will share
the same fate -- and our best scientists tell us it is increasingly obvious
that we will -- we must act quickly and do all that we can to ensure a secure
future for ourselves, and for those with whom we share the earth. And we cannot rest until the job is done.
1. Ann Cottrell Free, ed., Animals, Nature, and Albert Schweitzer,
(Washington, D.C.: Flying Fox Press, 1988).
2. Jan Hartke, Washington,
D.C., personal communication, 6
3. Conger Beasley, Jr., 'Live and Let Die," Buzzworm, July/August 1992, p. 53.
4. A. Richard Mordi, Attitudes Toward Wildlife in Botswana, (New York: Garland
7. Lewis Regenstein, Replenish the Earth: The Teachings of the
World's Religions on Protecting Animals and Nature, (New York: Crossroad,
1991), pp. 19-44.
8. Ibid., pp. 221-260.
9. Ibid., pp. 243-244.
'How Buddhism Can Help Protect Nature," Tree of Life: Buddhism and
Protection of Nature (Buddhist Perception of Nature, Hong Kong, 1987), p. 7.
12. Lewis Regenstein, Replenish the Earth, pp. 229-32.
13. Ibid., P. 102.
"This Earth Is Sacred," Environmental Action Magazine, 11 November
1972, p. 7.
14. "The World Scientists' Warning to Humanity," 18
November 1992; as cited in Lewis G. Regenstein, Cleaning Up America the
Poisoned, (Washington, D.C.: Acropolis Books, 1993), P. 12.
16. Edward 0. Wilson,
"Is Humanity Suicidal?" The New York Times Magazine, 30 May 1993.
17. Paul G. Irwin, Foreword to Lewis G. Regenstein, Cleaning
the Poisoned, pp. 7-8.
'Is Humanity Suicidal?'
Walter H. Corson, ed., The Global Ecology Handbook,
The Global Tomorrow Coalition (Boston: Beacon Press, 1990).
Council on Environmental Quality, The Global Environment and Basic Human
Needs, Washington, D.C., 1978.
19. Ecclesiastes 3:19.
This article is extracted from Animals
in Peril, John A. Hoyt, Avery Publishing Group, Garden City Park, New York,